Tanzania: Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions of Gay and Lesbian Activists


In July 2009, Tanzania submitted its fourth periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) for consideration at the Committee's 2628th and 2629th meetings on July 13 and 14 in Geneva, Switzerland. At the meetings, the UNHRC urged Tanzania to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults and implement laws that protect sexual minorities.

Since the UNHRC Concluding Observations have been publicized by the media and the Tanzania Human Rights Commission, there has been a considerable backlash against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Tanzania criminalizes homosexuality under Section 154 of the Penal Code, and LGBT people already suffer persecution and violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Attacks have reportedly become more direct and aggressive following media coverage of the UNHRC's recommendations, particularly by individuals acting with the encouragement of the police.

Targets have included those perceived to have given information to the UNHRC – especially those who reported human rights violations against sexual minorities for the shadow report that the Centre for Human Rights Promotion, IGLHRC and Global Rights submitted for review.

June Arrests:

On June 19, 2009, well-known gay activists, Zuberi Juma (also known as Aunty Zuberi), 22, and Ibrahim Ramadhani (also known as Aunty Suzzy), 23, were arrested and arraigned on charges of debauchery before the magistrate seated at Mwanzo Magomeni. The two detainees were charged alongside seven women arrested for loitering the streets at night and for soliciting sex. Presiding Magistrate Mwanaina Madeni openly ridiculed Juma and Ramadhani, particularly because of how they looked and the clothes they were wearing. When the two denied the charges against them, Madeni mocked them before the open court, asking them, "Wewe ni mwanaume au mwanamke? Mwanaume anakuwa na sauti kama hio? Si unaona wanaume wenzako jinsi walivyo?" ("Are you a man or woman? Does a man have a voice like yours? Look at the men around you and how they look like, do you think you are like them?")1

The accused were denied bail at the hearing, but were later released.

September Arrests:

On September 29, 2009, 39 gay and lesbian activists were arrested in the Buguruni area of Dar es Salaam as they were having a meeting and socializing. Following reports of lawlessness in the area, police singled out gay activists as "prostitutes" and "vagrants" and charged them with operating as commercial sex workers under Section 176(a) of the Penal Code.

At their trial, the presiding magistrate denied the 39 activists bail, saying their offenses were "spreading" and an "eye-sore" and should be dealt with without mercy. All 39 of the accused were detained for over two weeks at the local jail. The legal counsel attending to the hearing was able to negotiate bail, and the accused are currently out of custody awaiting their next hearing, scheduled for November 16, 2009.

The imprisonment of people solely on the basis of their real or suspected sexuality violates the principles enshrined under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to all of which Tanzania is a party.

IGLHRC is closely monitoring these trials, particularly in light of the UNHRC Concluding Observations urging Tanzania to review laws which criminalize homosexuality. IGLHRC is working in conjunction with local partners in Tanzania who are pursuing the implementation of the UNHRC's recommendations prior to Tanzania’s next periodic report.

1. Report extracted from court proceedings for Criminal Case No. 626 of 2009. Also reported in Masini newspapers on June 20, 2009.

Photo: A shopping street in Buguruni, part of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Photo taken 2005 by Matthias Krämer.